Tag Archive: writing


Recent fav flavors from flavorwire   http://flavorwire.com/414942/10-soul-cleansing-books-to-help-you-become-a-better-person/view-all/



wild-cheryl strayed


Wild, Cheryl Strayed


If you’re one of the last people left who hasn’t picked up this book, which some have claimed is one of those rare life-changing memoirs, reading Strayed’s story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone in an attempt to get over her grief and addiction is every bit as meaningful an experience as you’ve heard.




Buck, MK Asante


A powerful memoir of survival after things fall apart. The Zimbabwe-born poet’s story of coming of age in North Philadelphia with his father gone, his mother committed to a mental hospital, and his brother in jail, will help you realize that — even against the toughest of odds — you can make it.




And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini


Khaled Hosseini is one of the world’s great storytellers, and his latest work is full of love, war, birth, death, and reflections on the impact certain decisions can have on the future.





Borges: Selected Non-FictionsJorge Luis Borges


Obviously read his fiction, but there is so much wisdom to be taken from Borges’ nonfiction that as soon as you start reading it, you realize how much more you still have to learn about the world.




The Tenants of Moonbloom, Edward Lewis Wallant


In this overlooked classic from the middle of the 20th century, we watch as Moonbloom grows from an awkward and isolated middleman collecting rent from his brother’s crummy apartments into a fuller, better person. Uplifting and page-for-page perfect; you should really seek out The Tenants of Moonbloom.




Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman


Who hasn’t felt inspired by Whitman’s — and possibly America’s — greatest poetry collection? A meditation on what is, but more importantly, what could be. Spend your day with this if you’re looking to recharge.





Essays, Henry David Thoreau


This collection of Thoreau’s most famous essays on solitary soul searching and self-discovery in the Massachusetts woods is the perfect type of thing to read if you are looking to step outside your own comfort zone.




The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass


Very few life stories showcase the overcoming of adversity and oppression to quite the same extent as this autobiography of one of America’s most inspirational figures.




The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein


For those in search of something a little lighter, we’d suggest reading (or re-reading) this one, and remembering that Shel Silverstein really just wanted to make all of us — including kids — better people.





the quotidian to the completely outlandish. Here are some particularly interesting ideas.





A car






A boat










Your plumbing







That sarcophagus you just happen to have hanging about in the garage*




* Just kidding: it’s from SkyMall, because of course it is




A staircase













An old ladder






… and your, um, TARDIS


Bonus: it’s bigger on the inside.




Rilke on Why Must I Write?

My thoughts – I think rilke’s advice applies not only to budding poets but to all those in search of their true passion in life ………….. to delve into  their core …………….  and look for answers within …….. with a free mind   .


“Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is a great book,” Hopper says in this short film from 2007. “For me the letters are a credo of creativity and a source of inspiration. After reading Rilke it became clear to me that I had no choice in the matter. I had to create.” The ten-minute film, Must I Write?, was directed by Hermann Vaske and photographed by Rain Li. Hopper reads the first of the book’s ten letters, in which Rilke tells the young man to stop seeking approval from others:

You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can help and counsel you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places in your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all–ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgement of it: there is no other. Therefore, my dear sir, I know no other advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist.

Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

The Hindu : FEATURES / LITERARY REVIEW : A moveable commune –  Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore in Paris where one feels like being in one’s own apartment, just exactly how founder George Whitman wanted it to be, says Charukesi Ramadurai.

I know it is fashionable to call it “the end of an era” when someone famous or important dies but in George Whitman’s case, it was definitely so. With him went an age where people loved to read and in his case, lived to read (he once said that he was in the book business since it was the business of life). Sylvia Whitman has been shouldering his legacy since her return from the UK over 10 years ago. “It has been very difficult adjusting to life at the bookshop without this eccentric, witty, wild character at the centre of it… I am still trying to find my way in,” she admits candidly.

.Photos: Charukesi Ramadurai

“Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” reads the entry to the room, but from all accounts, Whitman’s generosity was never in anticipation of finding the odd angel who would sprinkle blessings on his shop. He was also known to describe it as “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” Delannet says, “George was serious about this; he wanted his bookstore to feel like one’s own apartment — anybody can come and read all day long in the first floor library and never get kicked out.” Jeremy Mercer, a Canadian journalist who wrote about his stay there in his book Time Was Soft There , says, “The young people I met at Shakespeare and Company were infected by George’s mad, romantic view of the world and they left the bookstore with the passion to do incredible things. And the older people I met there were reinvigorated by it all, ready to go forth and face the world again.”

……………..in modern life, with its furious pace, there isn’t enough time to sit and talk with idle poets and eccentric cyclists. But my six months at the bookstore gave me that time and as a result I have some of the richest friendships possible.”

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-literaryreview/excessively-wilde/article4155259.ece -. The result — both in classical opera and in Wilde — is a kind of lightness in movement that entirely belies the sheer energy and vitality that goes into its creation. The final work is, as Stoppard puts it, nearly perfect. In another letter to Alexander, Wilde wrote, immodestly, but accurately: “The first act is ingenious, the second beautiful, the third abominably clever.” He might well have been describing his life.

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/performers-with-a-new-profile/article4155298.ece –Thanks to social media, the mystique of the Carnatic musician has been punctured by finger pointing — with “likes” and “dislikes” and, on rare occasions, the proverbial middle finger, says Kalpana Mohan.


http://www.thehindu.com/arts/http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/pursuing-boredom/article4155297.eceart/destination-kochi/article4170978.ece – A uniquely British eccentricity celebrating the prosaic and mundane.

Pepper House: Scene of activity. Photo:Thulasi Kakkat Valsan Koorma Kolleri: Rebirth of material. Photo:Thulasi Kakkat


The Hindu : FEATURES / LITERARY REVIEW : A legacy of silence.

However, word on the publishing street is that he’s a bit of a recluse. Do you think that’s a fair assessment, I ask. Mistry offers a wide smile and wry acceptance: “Yes, I think recluse is fair. I’m not a very sociable kind of person. And I try not to organise or attend parties.” Neither is he comfortable doing the regulation book tour for his latest effort, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer ; a launch in Mumbai is the only concession he’s made so far.

Smiling again (he does smile a lot for a reclusive guy), he admits, “I’m happiest when I’m writing; I feel whole and healthy when the writing is going well. When you’re exploring an idea and one word leads to the next smoothly — that’s the real pleasure.”

Most of that writing is now done in Kodaikanal, a world apart from his native Mumbai, the setting for much of his work. How did that happen? “For health reasons and because my son goes to school there,” he says. “Anyway, Mumbai has become insufferable and so money-centric. People seem to have too much money to spend. I don’t have that kind of money.” The language barrier doesn’t bother him either: “I may not be able to speak Tamil well, but I relate much better to the people in Kodaikanal than in Mumbai.”

Another reason Mistry has not been too much in the news is that, for many years, he battled a debilitating illness that has left him somewhat frail in body but stronger in mind. “I’ve overcome illness by using my mind,” he says. Though, in his customary self-deprecatory manner, he says later,I’m not very cerebral, I’m not an ideas man. Emotion is very important to me.

Plenty of emotion — joyous, aching, bitter, ribald — spills out of Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer , a novel imbued with an overwhelming sense of loss and a dark, brooding humour that never lets up. A love story set against the backdrop of the khandhias or corpse-bearers of the Parsi community, the novel expectedly asks questions about life and death.

“These are questions one keeps asking oneself: How seriously should I take karma? How do miracles happen? When you’re a person of strong faith, God is on your side. You can rationalise even the bad things that happen to you; they don’t destroy your faith,” he muses. Of himself, he says, “I am a person of doubting faith; a person who likes the idea of prayer and faith but wonders whether there is any evidence to support it outside of our own minds.”

Mistry does not hesitate to ask these questions upfront in the book, partly because he sees that approach as integral to the purpose of writing. As he declares in his brief bio on the Aleph website, a work of fiction should be “able to move its reader at some fundamental level, to disturb and rearrange his outlook on life, perhaps even change him as a person for even a very short moment.”

E from http://www.thehindu.com/arts/books/article3591190.ece

…………………………… Killing Agatha Christie is a popular sport with writers of detective fiction. It’s also something of a rite of passage. A public sneer at Christie is a practical necessity for the nervous beginner testing the waters. If one declares Hercule Poirot insufferable and Miss Marple certifiable, one is already midstream. The other side, the greener one, is literary fiction. The muck still sticking to the skin is detective stuff. The writer, gaining the shore, may yell her lungs out that detective fiction is literary, but nobo

Every murderer needs an alibi. Best not to look too closely at this one, or we might land up finding Christie characters and plots in the murderer’s own oeuvre. Even Colin Watson, after his satirical Mayhem Parva, went on to give us Miss Silver who is only Marple gone giddy on whisky and sex.

All this worked well in the postmodern fug of mannered ennui and cynicism, but in the second decade of the third millennium, it reads so yesterday. We need to let in daylight now, and seriously examine why it is so difficult murdering Agatha Christie.

At the end of the first page of any Christie novel, the reader is infected with a delicious sense of anticipation. Nothing has happened as yet — no corpse, no murderous thought, no simmering resentments — yet the page trills with excitement. In the voice of Dolly Bantry, the reader’s thought is “This is my murder, and I intend to enjoy it!”

Christie intended to appetize us for murder. And how well she succeeds. We’re avid for murder before she so much as hints at the corpse around the corner.

The trick is simple, and not easy to duplicate. Christie is not writing for the reader. She’s writing in real time, as she watches the story unfold. The excitement we feel is her own.

If there is any skill at all to writing, it is this. A supreme lack of self-consciousness, an indifference to detail except for what moves the moment, the flow from now to next.

I didn’t see that — did you? is the question the reader keeps asking because the scenery is flying past the window, and it’s all familiar, so how can we tell what we missed?

Banal prose? Did I hear you mutter banal? When was the banal so dangerous as with Agatha Christie?

Christie limned society in shrewd spare lines (most of them spoken). The very economy of those lines gave her characters the annoying clarity of strangers glimpsed across the aisle: the little you saw or overheard compelled you to vividly imagine the rest.

The next accusation is that Christie was prolific — and what can be produced so fast but trash? The same argument is levelled at two other successful hacks whose anniversaries were recently celebrated — P. G. Wodehouse and Charles Dickens. There’s a paradox here, one generally overlooked. People wrote more, and much faster before computers. In fact, the messier the implements, the faster they wrote. Shakespeare wrote faster than Scott who wrote faster than Dickens who wrote faster than P.G. Wodehouse who ran neck-to-neck with Christie most of the time.

So if Christie pulled off six impossible books before breakfast, how did she do it? She doesn’t tell. Her Autobiography, published posthumously in 1977, is her most accomplished work of fiction. It is completely opaque.

The real story

Try reading a Christie novel without its detective. The book does not collapse. The story still moves. You realise then that the game in which you were earlier caught up, with its clues and red herrings and breathless denouement is merely impasto, an overlay on the real story, the one you’re left with when you close the book. Murder is merely a colour that makes one narrative emerge, but there are other stories in flux — like that other dystopia we call life.

This is why Christie’s books are addictive. We recognise the dystopia because it locates familiar irrationalities, discrepancies, anarchies, misfits, and we’re asking all the time what if this means murder? The cannibalistic sadist, the tragic necrophiliac, even the cellar with its layers of bodies, seem puerile next to Christie’s respectable murderers. For her solid tax-paying men and women, murder’s merely another domestic chore.

Time we saw this really, because when paraphilias are passé and axe murderers put to grass, there’s still the misfit, the discrepancy, the odd detail that nags, and we do need to find out what it means. And that is why it is impossible to murder Agatha Christie.


Wait on, there’s more — Christie dominates libraries, which takes her a notch beyond, and makes her also the most read. After the initial colic of envy, this could be a good thing for the literary writer. It proves how irredeemably vulgar Christie must be. Literary fiction, of course, can only be read by the truly literate, the sort who, horrid thought, cozies up with Edmund Wilson — today remembered for little beyond his neurotic “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” (1945) tantrum in The New Yorker.

Not only do her bad books sell by the million, but Agatha Christie is dead too, and that’s an injustice difficult to ignore.



E  from http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/article2091979.ece

If you were made, like I was, to study John Keats at school, the chances are you will remember that vivid stanza in hisOde To A Nightingale, in which he longs for a draught of vintage cooled in the “deep-delved earth” and tasting of “flora and the country green.”

It never occurred to me to wonder then, as I do now, what wine he could have been thirsting for. He yearned for a “beaker full of the warm South” that had “beaded bubbles winking at the brim” and left his mouth “purple-stained.” A red bubbly? That doesn’t make sense.

There must be a rational literary interpretation that irons out this incongruity. But lets leave that aside and focus on the subject at hand — the association between wine and literature.

Wine has inspired some of our best writers to write elegies in verse and prose. The great Pablo Neruda who wrote many Odes, devoted one highly embroidered and metaphor-filled poem to wine, describing it as a “starry child of earth” and “soft as lascivious velvet” and comparing the line of his love’s hip to the “brimming curve of the wine goblet.”

In what are now much-quoted quotes, Robert Louis Stevenson described wine as “bottled poetry” and the astronomer Galileo wrote that “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”

And, contemporary novelist Jay McInerney is much more than just one of the world’s finest wine critics; he is also a damn fine writer, whose prose is luminous with wit and intelligence.

Why does any of this matter, you may well ask. The short answer is that it makes wine so much more colourful, expansive and interesting; that it shows wine had had and continues to have a way of coaxing the muse and stimulating intellectual curiosity; that it is so much more than just an alcoholic drink.



That suicide of the creative process Hemingway describes so accurately in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” He had destroyed his talent himself–by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, by snobbery, by hook and by crook, selling vitality, trading it for security, for comfort. Almost unnoted are the foreground silences, before the achievement. George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Isak Dinesen, Sherwood Anderson, Dorothy Richardson, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, A. E. Coppard, Angus Wilson, Joyce Cary—all close to, or in their forties before they came published writers; Lampedusa, Maria Dermout (The Ten Thousand Things). Laura Ingalls Wilder, the “children’s writer,” in their sixties. Very close to this last grouping are the silences where the lives never came to writing. Among these, the mute inglorious Miltons: those whose waking hours are all struggle for existence; the barely educated; the illiterate; women. Their silence the silence of centuries as to how life was, is, for most of humanity.


One day, Paul Collins, author of strange biographies such as interesting, droll failures who didn’t change the world and lover of old and odd books, decided to move with his family from San Francisco to the book town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales. He felt overcome by a powerful feeling to relocate, buy a house there and write. But he also wanted to move his library there, some few thousand books.

Collins doesn’t cram his books with everything he finds out, so it doesn’t feel geeky. The narrative is airy, light, slimmed-down, not thick and intricate. Yet, once you get over the disappointment that he isn’t telling you everything he knows, you feel grateful that he lets you finish his book. He’s a cool literary detective, laconic and terse with sharing his deep and wily knowledge of the case he’s investigating, parting with the facts — often amusing new trivia — just when you think he’s rambling on. Take his new book,The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World, where a reader, even a Shakespeare scholar, can discover things about the creation of the First Folio and its ensuing bibliographical history that is obscure, hidden, surprising. Research that isn’t wide or common knowledge; details he pursued and teased out.

, “reclining on a velvet pillow, where it luxuriates like a monarch…a stout, unadorned leather binding…

Collins is an impassioned literary detective who chases after details, and ends up finding so many, that his telling becomes rambling marginalia. So, this isn’t just a bibliographical history of theFirst Folio, but also a witty, intriguing and finely detailed peek into Shakespeareana.

Collins points to Samuel Johnson’s own food-stained Folio copy, remarking: “Books bear a tangible presence alongside their ineffable quality of thought: they have a body and a soul.”


The author cleverly portrays Ratnesh to be a seedy, uncouth, unpleasant scoundrel and a hardened opportunist. Amit on the other hand, is well to do and well connected with Indian diplomats and people of influence. However, he too turns out to be disappointingly shallow and calculating.

It’s one thing to weave in the history of a tourist’s background as part of the story, but to guess at their circumstances and stereotype people from different nations comes through as a bit insular and parochial.

This is yet another book that portrays today’s modern Indian women as hesitantly liberated. There is a tendency to dabble in the swirl of western lifestyle until incident catalyses their return with the swiftness of a boomerang. Seetha’s problem seems to be her loneliness in a lifestyle she is only getting accustomed to, and a lack of kindred spirits to help her along in the process. The women in the diplomat party are clearly people not in her league. The IT scene tends to produce a plethora of fine, sensitive, educated people who travel in groups and are willing to create a ready ecosystem in which a fresh contractor from India can survive. Not so for Seetha.


Regional language literature has always been a vast reservoir of wealth waiting to be explored and, no matter how much of it is translated into English, only the tip of the iceberg emerges. Hindi writing, in particular, holds an embarrassment of riches that is just begging to be tapped.

Translator and daughter Ira Pande returns with Shivani’sApradhini: Women without Men. As the title suggests clearly, the book revolves entirely around women and twists in circumstances that often make ordinary women rebel against the parameters of acceptability set down by society. And step shockingly out of line. Told lucidly and laced around her true life journalistic investigations, the stories inApradhinichill the bone with their stark simplicity and brutal honesty. There is no attempt to sensationalise the author’s encounters with prison inmates, no indulging in maudlin emotions either, merely a threadbare account of the lives led by women in the shadows of crime.

Also featured here are stories about tricksters in the guise of innocent women, the ambiguous life of a madwoman and the tragic results of excessive irreverence. An entire story is dedicated to the hardships faced by the author’s mother and the magnanimity of spirit that survived all odds.

The author has a sharp ear for unspoken words and a keen eye that reads between the lines. Without saying anything concrete, she conjures up the horrors of Indian prisons and the plight of rural women who continue to be at the receiving end of immense social injustice. Domestic violence is depicted, terrifyingly, as a casual and regular occurrence; it is the outer limit of endurance that is the deciding factor of fates. Author interviews and a body of information etch the persona of the late Shivani very satisfyingly.

This book is to be read at the reader’s own peril. A bleak and joyless journey, one capable of evoking deep emotions…. Of these, guilt is likely to ride highest; that such a parallel world exists so close to the familiar one we recognise and yet one is helpless to do much about it. A compelling book but one that could make one a prisoner of one’s own conscience.


To present Manashi Dasgupta’s (1928-2010) legacy involves pulling together the academic, cultural and critical strands of a vision that cherishes friendship and intercontextual conversation. It is at this crucial interface, she suggests, that the democratic imagination must make interpersonal sense of institutions.

Dasgupta’s 1962 Cornell University doctoral dissertation brings social psychology to bear on what makes somebody seem interesting to others. She proposes that we imagine narratives about people we meet; perceiving a half-story leaves us intrigued and interested in the protagonist.

She argues (especially in Jiggasa 11:3.287-301, 1990) that we make friends where we find it possible, in principle, to initiate joint projects.

Dasgupta’s interpersonalist vision identifies a democratic, anti-hierarchical imagination as a prerequisite for modernity. The point is to fashion a friendship-based institutional format outside the patriarchal family paradigm.

The academic flows into the cultural in Dasgupta’s work.

Few of the friends who picked her brains, however, recognised that this was one of her ways of nurturing intercontextual conversations and thereby feeding the democratic imagination.


Then in the space of weeks her marriage broke up and she discovered she had breast cancer. But although it might seem a wretched incongruity that such a full life should suffer such a swift fall, Rich’s own view is that it only made sense. ‘I smoked two packs of Newport Lights a day’, ‘I drank, a lot’, ‘I ate like shit’, ‘I worked out… hardly ever’, and thanks to a ‘high-drive, adrenylated job’, ‘mostly, I inhaled stress’. It is intelligent, articulate ideas like these that make for the attractiveness of Rich’s writing.

She also presents a grim picture of the American medical establishment. The history of her treatment abounds with dodgy diagnoses, overlooked symptoms, adversarial tussles with dispassionate doctors, who are too afraid of being sued to properly care. It is easily inferred from this book that market forces and health-care are a dangerous mix. Also, that while New York may be a wonderful place to be young and healthy, it is not so pleasant to be sick there, and dependent for support on a paid therapist. For Indian readers, this book should also lead us to appreciate better the personal touch of our own culture, the familial networks that we sometimes take for granted.


Looking back, I think the writer in me was born somewhere in the dark interior of my ancestral house, about which there had always been a mysterious silence. Being the only male child in a joint family, I grew up lonely in the midst of unbelievable things. What moulded my childhood mind were stories of gods, goddesses and the dead, told at untimely hours, splashing and bathing in the tharavad pond; scenes of country oracles, or komarams; and sorcerers performing poojas and black magic.

Terribly lonely, also obviously scared, I developed a habit of talking to myself. Not just to myself, but also to trees, animals, birds – and, sometimes, to the ghosts and gods too. They were my companions then. It might be that those interior dialogues developed into my writings, be it poetry or prose. My writing still remains an attempt to come to terms with what otherwise appears indefinable in life. It’s all about relating what is within and without.

Poetry today is a form where boundaries are pushed to the point where readers are confused about why a particular work is judged to be poetry. For you, what defines a poem?

Primarily, it’s a feeling of being incomplete, together with an irresistible discontent, rather, disquiet, always growing within. Poetry, for me, is an attempt at overcoming the depressing human condition and giving a meaning to it. Devoid of this, even if a work of art is technically perfect, it will invariably be soulless.

If you had to deliver a sort of State of the Union address about the world of poetry, what would be some of your thoughts?

There’s something in poetry that doesn’t allow it to die. There isn’t any literary medium that has undergone as much misuse and abuse as poetry; still it survives. The most ancient of all human expressions, it’s still as fresh as something just invented. Poetry nowadays has almost become a personal medium. Often, it’s not the medium of the winner, but that of the defeated. At least like that, I think, it’ll continue.

Who are some of the poets who continually “speak” to you?

Those whom I read to recharge my writer-ly batteries include Kumaranasan, Vyloppillil and Edassery in Malayalam; Vacana poets, William Blake, W.B. Yeats and Wislawa Szymborska in other languages. I read Kumaranasan and the Vacana poets for the way in which they address the metaphysical dilemma; Blake and Yeats for their prophetic but simple articulation; and Szymborska for the dexterity with which she transforms a thought into a poetic experience.

Do you have a daily routine into which you slot in your writing?

I don’t have a routine. I can live doing nothing for days, I can work continuously for days without sleep. I enjoy unpredictability and believe that everything in my life is an accident; sometimes I even feel that becoming a writer was an accident.

This is not to mock Rich — anyone with cancer might be so desperate — and indeed she chastises herself for the fact. Just as she chastises the ‘talk-show honesty’ of her generation (‘self-revelations about sex or degradation…but never venality or arrogance or the other, more banal sins that actually made us look bad’). But it is one thing to be perfectly aware of a shortcoming, and another to overcome it. The truth is that The Red Devil does feature a kind of talk-show honesty, where splendid insights are dragged down from their rightful pedestal and mixed up in the shallows, and where the aim is not so much to share one’s courage, as to have it confirmed. In the nicest and discreetest way, it is a showy book, one outstanding proof of which is that it reads like a novel. The dialogue is all within quotation marks, conversations are described in implausibly cinematic terms, and the love stories are weaved in like sub-plots. This ‘fictional’ treatment helps the book read easily, but it also hides the absence of real, helpful content, that a more mundane and less stagy style would not have been able to. To sum up, I think ‘ The Red Devil’ will have you genuinely liking and rooting for the author, but I doubt it will have you thanking her.


I am hardly the performance poet, preferring to focus on what I express on paper rather than on the stage. I read a lot of poetry to myself, out loud, but that is because I enjoy how a piece tightens or releases my breath; I am interested in exploring that. My early readings likely had a performance aspect: I would look at an audience member at just the right turn of phrase, at just the right moment and make her feel exactly what I wanted to. That sort of attitude can easily corrupt, so I backed off. I want to vanish and be unimportant during a reading; so if the audience stays engaged, it is due to the poem not the poet.

I am some sort of a ‘reverse traveller’. I don’t move around to get inspired, but the other way round. I hear or read about a particular place and that stays with me. A year or two later, if that memory hasn’t left, I start making plans. The sort of poetry I prefer to write cannot be written on a tourist visa, so I much prefer to stay at a place for a month or two at a time. It helps me find stories I would miss otherwise.

Music is just another form of expression, another method of self-exploration. There are things I cannot express with poetry alone, so there is certainly an opportunity to merge both media. I haven’t been very successful at it so far, but I am trying. For example, right now I am working on a set of poems that will read in sync with a few Chopin nocturnes, the narrative, the punctuations, and line-breaks allowing the poems to ascend and descend with the music.

Absolutely. I find what I do as an engineer very challenging and enjoyable. Also, it pays the bills, allows me to travel on whim, and to take creative risks. I know there are writers who are inspired by poverty, but not me.

http://www.hindu.com/lr/2011/02/06/stories/2011020650040200.htm  Almost taking a hint from Pamuk, Hindi writers and those from other Indian languages made hay at the festival, speaking their language, their way. If Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi had to host a session on Hindi film songs almost twice over, Mrinal Pande made her presence felt too. At the session, “Aisi Hindi, Kaisi Hindi”, she quietly tore into the host Satyanand Nirupam’s argument that expletives are a form of expression too! “People use ‘gaali’ when lacking words. An intelligent man does not abuse. He uses measured words. When a child picks up an expletive on the street, the mother always scolds him. If abuse were really a form of developing expression, the mother would have probably hailed the child!” Pande left co-panellists speechless and the audience clapping in appreciation.


The literary café is the most exciting part of the biennial Jerusalem Book Fair. In this open, informal and civilised space — in fact, so civilised that it has a working coffee counter right next to a makeshift stage — take place the encounters with the literary giants of home and abroad. I was witness to one such interaction last week: The man on the spot was Britain’s foremost writer today: Ian McEwan, winner of the Jerusalem Prize, and the man who expertly drew him out, with an understated knowledge of literary technique and rapier sharp wit, was Meir Shelev, himself a renowned Israeli novelist.

He paid homage to other recipients before him, people who had “rearranged his mind.” The list that begins with the philosopher Bertrand Russell includes Simone de Beauvoir who provided special insights into relationships and Isaiah Berlin who had shown the “dangers of Utopia” as well as fiction writers Arthur Miller and Milan Kundera whose fiction “swayed and entranced him”.

From the prize itself to the city after which it is named was a natural jump. Shelev trawled out the not-so-complimentary reactions to Jerusalem of some famous writers. Herman Melville, on visiting Jerusalem, said that “Jerusalem is surrounded by cemeteries and dead people are its strongest guild.” Actually, though Shelev did not venture that far, Melville said much more and his descriptions would never make it to a tourist brochure. He thought that Jerusalem looks at you “like a cold, gray eye in a cold, old man……Stony mountains & stony plains; stony walls & stony fields; stony houses & stony tombs; stony eyes & stony hearts. Before you and behind you are stones.” Gogol was so affected by the city that on his return he burnt the second half of Dead Souls. McEwan agrees that the city has a “sense of echo” and could well destroy his novel in progress. Like a sudden journey, which can startle you with a new insight into life and make everything written earlier sound meaningless and trite.

However, the city’s preoccupation with religion does not get to him. Ever the outspoken rationalist, he proclaims his atheism and the absence of any divine force dictating the affairs of men. “Most things that happen in life are random. You may not have been born if, say on one evening in 1948, your mother had decided to stay in and wash her hair instead of going out to a party where she met this nice young man.” Much in the same manner, he proclaims, the novel is constructed of a series of coincidences that enable the interaction between characters and move the action forward. When the conversation turns, as inevitably such conversations turn nowadays, to the issue of the survival of a novel, McEwan offers an irresistible rationale for its survival: “Human beings are social animals, profoundly curious about each other’s lives.

The novel is a kind of higher form of gossip and is sustained by our curiosity about others. It satisfies our gossipy instincts. Jane Austen was the greatest and most gossipy of novelists.”

But it is of the novella, a form with which he has had “an enduring love affair,” that he talks enthusiastically. It is this genre that he enjoys most; even On Chesil Beach is only 39000 words long; it enables the writer to move the story ahead at a tremendous speed, leaving no place for sub-plots. In a way he is a miniaturist: a confined place — whether in space or time — seems to bring out the best in him, the little visual detail, the description of every half-movement, the cranking up of the literary tension, bit by bit.

He likes gaps between books, he “tries to let some life go by.” As he said in an interview some time ago: “I’m very cautious about starting anything without letting time go, and feeling it’s got to come out. I’m quite good at not writing. Some people are tied to five hundred words a day, six days a week. I’m a hesitater.” When he does start writing, it is a tentative process – putting down fragments¸ introducing characters to see what they would do. He is elated by surprises, the surprise of a particular adjective appearing before a noun or a character making a sudden move; “in fact”, he says, “a character should surprise you.” As one would expect, McEwan writes down ideas, images, and phrases as they come in a spiral notebook. He relates how once, when writing notes in a café, he lost his notebook, leaving him with a feeling of tremendous loss. Until one day, eighteen months later, the notebook landed, in a brown envelope, with a thud on his doormat. On re-reading it, he discovered that it did not contain a single worthy thought!


I wondered aloud if the pen, like the camera, was also a torch. He wasn’t sure of it. But the question of desire remained – of camera and pen as tools of desire. I was reminded of a line by Robert Bresson, about how the art of cinema is to “make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen”. I concluded: reality is blind, but so are we. Unless we are able to “in-see”, to use Rilke’s word, and lighten up the invisible. Not in order to strip what is invisible, but to illuminate its hidden-ness.

As we walked our different ways, I recollected the lines from one of his remarkably simple poems, which captures the friendly otherness he exuded in conversation:

We walked together.

We did not know each other.

But we knew walking together.

Later in the evening I met James Kelman. I had heard him read from his controversial Booker-winning novel, How Late It Was, How Late, with the same amount of passion with which he must have written it more than a decade ago. The novel became infamous as the great “f-novel”, irritating many including Martin Amis. But Kelman’s supposed nonsense with language is strictly no-nonsense, depressing, dismal, dark and full of the drudgery of working-class life. His prose, defiantly introspective and interspersed with slang, counters the grammar and phonetics of the English language he learnt to resist.

I caught Kelman, walking alone, a little lost, near the music-stage area. I told him I found the repetitive expressions in his prose an unavoidable technique for registering troubled memory. I mentioned Jacques Lacan. Kelman had read Freud and was interested in psychoanalysis. We discussed the disturbing, neurological phenomenon of the unconscious, where it draws upon the mode of insistence to relive certain traumas, and manifests itself into pathological repetition. Kelman saw vulgarity critically: as a burden for the poor, the wayward and the out of place, for whom cursing and cussing are part of a life which is thrust violently upon them. Kelman wouldn’t abandon that language to gain any other literary merit. His alert, vagabond eyes, and his smoky, alcoholic voice, meant what they said. He didn’t mince words: “We were told to look down upon our own culture and eulogise everything British. You couldn’t stomach it, could you?” He didn’t. The seat of his passions unseated elite, literary appetites.

To hear Pamuk is to hear a naughty and candid adolescent in the heart of an exquisitely thoughtful man. He talks without airs, and with a moving honesty. Hearing him is an undetectable process of learning about the art of writing. Pamuk called the advent of literature in his life as a growing illumination of the “dark corners” of his mind. I thought of the relationship between darkness and the unconscious. That brought certain preoccupations of all three writers together. It reminded me of Kundera’s quoting the Czech poet Jan Skacel: Poets don’t invent poems / The poem is somewhere behind / It’s been there for a long time / The poet merely discovers it. Writing, Kundera explains, “means breaking through a wall behind which something… lies hidden in darkness”. In that sense, writing, like cinema, reveals to us our existing, human possibilities.



The Wandering Falcon; Jamil Ahmad, Penguin India, Rs. 399.  Seldom does a writer take you by the hand and lead you into a hidden world with such sure-footed ease. Jamil Ahmad does precisely that as he takes you deep into a folded land of hills and valleys straddling the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Occupied by a tribal people united under the banner of Islam but governed by a more ancient code of conduct, this is a dark world of abject poverty, deprivation and want, but one that is also lit from within.

Translucent beams of Life irradiate it. The will to live, the zeal to carry on with dignity and grace, the inherent desire in human beings — no matter how lowly or brought low by fate and circumstance — to rise above the human condition permeates this seemingly dark domain that could have been wretched but is inexplicably not in the least wretched. A deeply ingrained sense of honour, justice and loyalty permeates a world that is as harsh and unforgiving as it is inscrutable to the outsider.


Set in the decades before the onset of talibanisation, The Wandering Falcon allows us to wander, like the falcon that soars high over hill and dale, but takes in the minutest detail of life on the ground with its razor-sharp gaze. Appropriately enough, it has a boy protagonist, Tor Baz or the hunting falcon, the outsider looking in who connects the series of inter-linked stories that comprise the book.

While each chapter can be read as a self-contained short story, together they narrate the rite of passage of a boy — whose lineage is unknown, whose parents were a run-away couple killed in cold blood to avenge the family honour, who belongs to neither this tribe nor that — as he learns to survive in a world that is both cruel and gentle, harsh and loving, fragile and unrelenting, timeless yet changing.

The notion of honour and its concomitant principles of loyalty, fidelity and truthfulness string the stories together as much as the coming of age of Tor Baz from infancy to adulthood.

Winters of misery and desperation followed by the short-lived spring of hope and the summer months of wandering are leavened by a highly codified set of principles that govern every moment from birth till death.


 For a writer who has debuted at the age of 78, Ahmad writes with a surprising ease and confidence. Simple, spare and stark, his words are unembellished by rhetorical flourishes, his sentences shorn of even a trace of artifice or artfulness. There are no fancy turns of phrase, no verbal acoustics, no play upon words, nothing in fact to draw away from the stories he wants to tell in as straightforward a manner as possible. Here is writing – the finest one has read in a very long time in English by a South Asian writer – that ebbs and flows with such effortless ease and conveys the essence of the story in such few words that it catches you unawares with its freshness.

Man Booker Prize winner Yann Martel’s second novel, Beatrice and Virgil, is in many ways a book of memory and remembrance. The artful metaphor is our only ally against forgetfulness, he says. Excerpts from an exclusive interview…

Yann Martel’s second novel has been a long time coming. Recently released in Canada and the US, Beatrice and Virgil has received polarised reviews. That it has been trashed as well as praised, he says, is a sign that it has elicited active engagement, not indifference, from the readers. The controversial reception is a sign that it is getting people to think and act, he says from San Francisco where he is on a promotional tour. Excerpts from a telephonic conversation…

Are you planning on coming to India to promote the book here?

I have a nine-month-old son. Before I can promote it — I am not going to Australia, New Zealand — I want to get back and be with my son. So, as much as I would love to return to India, for any reason, not just to promote my books, just to be in India — I haven’t been there for about nine years now — I don’t know when that’ll be. India has changed a lot, I would love to go back and see that.

Lest we forget: Yann Martel. Photo: MACARENA YANEZ

Is this novel about the primacy of the imagination? You think we live in a world where the profusion of facts is working against making sensible meaning out of it?

Reality is a 100 million details. Right now where you are, if you think about it, you are surrounded by 100 million details on which you could focus your attention. Everything, from chemical, scientific details to cultural details to personal emotional details… now some of that has to be lost. Time, you know, is an eraser. It all goes. [We need] something we can hold on to. It’s called history. But even history has hundreds of thousands of details and sometimes it’s overwhelming and it’s hard to get to. The forte of the arts, the forte of the imagination is that it can take some of those details and give them immortality. A painting, a story, a song can float across the ocean of time like a lifeboat. So you can get to the essence of an event and convey it in the form of art. It can be like a suitcase, taking the essential and preparing you for a trip to elsewhere…

Does ‘getting to the essence’ necessarily bring a moral perspective that is lacking in mere facts?

It can be but art isn’t necessarily moral. Art could be immoral too. Art is witness. But in some stories, yes, it can also have a moral edge. It can also, in telling a story, convey certain moral situations. Which is what my novel does at the very end — In “Games for Gustav” are these 12 situations that are morally, existentially difficult. So, yes, it can make a moral situation fresh again…

You dwell at length in the initial stages of the novel about the concrete, everyday circumstances around writing /publishing that are usually glossed over. Is it autobiographical and are you saying that though there is a market built around imagination, it is essential to our being and identity?

I didn’t do it because I wanted it to be autobiographical, it was more because of the idea of a writer who stops writing, whose message has stopped, suited me because I was discussing the Holocaust. And any great horrific event, the Holocaust, war, has a tendency to erase language, to make us at a loss for words. You know, famously, when people encountered the Accounts, their language was full of clichés to do with “there are no words to describe”, “I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.” So, to have a writer who is at a loss for words and then to meet the taxidermist who is also in some ways at a loss for words suited my purpose when discussing the Holocaust…so that’s why I have that theme.

I did indeed have a meeting with my publishers, I did want to do a flip book with them but their argument was different. They were saying, “listen, an essay is a specialised product. A novel is not.” They were afraid the essay would drag down the novel.

You keep coming back to the notion that is art is about joy. The taxidermist is shown as someone who is joyless, cheerless, who plods through his play. “My story has no story. It is based on the fact of murder,” he says at one point. You think the character of the taxidermist is too steretypical, he and the novelist falling easily into opposite sides of a too-easy divide?

Art is joy in a general way. Any art, music, dance, painting, to create at that level is deeply joyful, it involves your whole being. Art and religion are the two ways in which we fully engage with life. In this particular case, I enjoyed wrestling with that subject. I wanted to make the taxidermist ambiguous. He clearly has some sort of a creative impulse, he is working on a play, he is quite rude with the writer. I wanted someone whom we wouldn’t understand why he was doing the things he was doing until the very end and even then we are not sure what his intent was.

And that to me was the parallel of the encounter of the Jews of Europe with the Nazis who did not see it coming. By the time they realised fully what the Nazis’ intents were, it was too late, they couldn’t escape and that’s why so many died.

How has the novel been received?

It’s been very interesting and very polarised. Some critics absolutely hated it. I got absolutely trashed by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and there’s some blogger on the Internet named Edward Champion who absolutely hated it. And then you have reviewers who absolutely loved it. The USA Todaythought it was positively a masterpiece. There were very positive reviews inNewsweek and the LA Times. So it’s been very polarised, which is good. The one thing you don’t want with art is indifference. You don’t want people to shrug. Even when people hate it, they are engaging with it.

Is there some sort of thematic continuity or evolution between Life of Pi and Beatrice and Virgil? If the former was about God, faith and religion, the latter is about imagination and art, isn’t it?

In some ways they are very different books. Yes, they both feature animals but that’s just on the surface. In Life of Pi hopefully the reader loses himself looking at those animals. Forget may be his humanity. In Beatrice and Virgilthose animals are anthropomorphised and are meant to bring us back to our humanity.

And as for the role of the imagination, to me it’s something more immediate like life itself is an interpretation. We cannot choose the reality we live in, but we can choose how we interpret it. In that sense, imagination is not something whimsical, fairy-tale like, I am simply saying that reality is a co-creation, reality is something which is out there but it is also how you take it. To that extent, I suppose there is a similarity between the two novels in the sense that how you represent reality will speak of how you see it, of what that reality is. A person of faith reads transcendendance into the world, sees a divine plan; I suppose it is the same with reading history. You are representing an event that is past, and in that representation there is an element of interpretation, of imaginative reading. In that way there is a thematic link between the two novels.

To me this novel seems to come behind a line of books from the West dealing with the Holocaust. Why this obsession in the West about the Holocaust? There are historical continuities to the Holocaust in the contemporary world like what is happening in Palestine, Gaza today, injustices, perhaps of equal magnitude. Nobody seems to talk about them much…

Well, aside of the politics of West Asia, which poisons everything, just looking in terms of history, the Holocaust still remains unique: every other genocide before and after has to some extent been politically expedient. The Armenians in Turkey were killed because they were in the way of the Turks who were trying to start their nation. Excesses in Gaza were committed because of political enmity between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In both cases you killed people who were in the way, who bothered you but the ones beyond a certain border were irrelevant to you. But the Nazis were obsessed with killing the Jews everywhere, as if they were a disease. That does remain unique. And the reason I think it is still relevant, not a piece of historical arcana from several years ago in the backwaters of Poland, is because what led to the Holocaust is still absolutely contemporary.

The act of hate, the thinking of hatred, the disrespect in the mind of an individual that eventually in Germany led to the Holocaust, that little beginning, that seed of hatred is found everywhere. The Holocaust is not rooted in Auschwitz, in Poland. It is rooted in the human heart. And that applies to India too. There are people in India with holocaustal thinking, for example the BJP, the Shiv Sena, you know, that kind of hatred of the other whom you don’t even know, who is just a construction in your mind to relieve tension, to relieve whatever… that is holocaustal. Now because India is democracy, there is a free press, it is unlikely that there will ever be a genocide but the roots are there…

The thing about this novel is that it is not an orthodox Holocaust novel. There is no history in there, there are no Germans, there is minimal reference to the Holocaust yet it is soaked in it.

So I do choose the Holocaust but not just as a historical artefact, I am looking at what is to me relevant. At the very end, there are 12 more situations where there is no historical colour or detail that put you at the heart of it. And those 12 situations could take place in India. You could be in a line of people about to be executed and you could be holding your grand daughter’s hand and she asks you a question. And what might that question be? What would a child be thinking when it sees people being massacred? That completely fits in with realities in India today. That’s why I think it’s still relevant…

Indian frames of mind



The sensual experience of learning Hindi and the transforming glimpses of ‘elsewhere’ that it afforded was what attracted her to learn the language and write about it, says American author Katherine Russell Rich. Excerpts from an interview…

Living a dream…Katherine Russell Rich.

American writer Katherine Russell Rich’s Dreaming in Hindi is an engaging, informative account of a year spent in Udaipur, learning Hindi from scratch. In this email interview, she discusses the process and what it did for her.

You mention in your book that you weren’t quite sure why you chose to learn Hindi in particular. But do you think your achievement, of re-imagining your world through a second language, would have been as personally rewarding if the language had been some other?


Yeah, I kind of stumbled into Hindi — I didn’t know precisely why. I wasn’t one of those Westerners who was after all-things-Indian to get jolts of spiritual enlightenment. I just liked the way the language felt in my mouth, I liked the glimpses it gave me of someplace so different from what I knew. It’s funny to say this about something as cerebral as learning a language, but I liked the sensual experience of Hindi.

I sometimes think when we allow ourselves to stumble into something, we leave ourselves open to larger forces guiding us in the right direction… Hindi and India were an absolutely essential part of the mix, it turned out. But no way would I have anywhere near the same rewarding experience had I gone, say, to Cuernavaca to learn Spanish. Hindi and daily Indian life are so infused with the wisdom of the Vedas, that wisdom seeps in whether you’re looking for it or not. And whether you intend for it to or not, it’s transforming. In casual conversation, for instance, somebody said to me, “Life is a rope snake,” and I haven’t felt fear with quite the same intensity since. And as a proper, distanced Anglo-American, I was at first horrified by, then totally melted by the boisterous closeness of an Indian family. I ended up loving that and yearning for more.

As someone who balks at the idea of learning another language in adulthood, I was very struck by your analysis of how traumatic a process this is, and how it requires unsettling your whole way of thinking. Do you think you could have done it if your own life had not been at a cross-roads at the time?


Being at a cross roads gave me the time to get away, but I’m not sure it’s what enabled me in the process. It might sound weird, but I think what came in most useful was the fact that I’ve had cancer for two thirds of my adult life. When you live with cancer, you have to figure out ways to live with constant uncertainty, and same thing goes for when you learn a language: Did that man just say what I thought he said? No way. Wait, wait: I think he did. In both instances, you either learn to be fluid or you go nuts. In my case, I’d already gotten a jump on learning to be fluid when I started learning Hindi.

It’s often said that we in India must all learn a common language if we’re going to get over our linguistic rivalries. But since this can be such a painful process, would you say a ‘live and let live’ philosophy is a better approach?


A live-and-let-live-philosophy is a better approach in theory, but I’m not sure it is in practice. For a country to truly function, doesn’t it need to have some kind of collective national voice? On the other hand, just as you can’t invent a symbol, you can’t thrust a language on people. A language is so much a part of the unconscious, it has to be gently incorporated or it’ll never seep into the deeper levels.

As India continues to change so rapidly, I have a feeling the situation with languages might too, maybe because there’ll be more incentive to have a common language. It won’t be a matter of ramming it down people’s throats. It’ll be a necessity for doing business.

Reading your book, it’s obvious you love English. In a paradoxical way, do you think that helped you with your Hindi — knowing that it would always be at arm’s length, so to speak?


I do love English but I think that’s largely because, like a lot of writers, I love language. And loving language, no question, helped me with Hindi. Unfortunately, I think that knowing English would always be my primary language slowed me down with Hindi. If you’re a Hindi-only speaker and go to America, you can’t cheat and fall back on Hindi when you get sick of fumbling through in another language. But if you’re American and go to India, you can always corral someone into speaking English with you, to the detriment of your Hindi.

Has your time in India learning Hindi changed your use of English?


In the beginning, that was happening all the time. You know how people in India often say “Hum” in a sentence where English speakers would say “I”? I was constantly doing the reverse — “We’ll be there at 7, then” — and people would say, puzzled, “We? Who else is coming?”

I was in such an Indian frame of mind, it took me about a year to know how to begin the book. One small example: I’d gotten used to the Indian sense of hierarchy and so I kept balking at writing about my teachers in any way that might sound disrespectful. This is the dead opposite approach you want to take with an American audience, who’ve been seeped in notions of “everyone’s equal” their whole lives.

I finally snapped out of it when one day, I was telling a writer friend a very rude but very funny story about one of the teachers and she said, “Of course you’re going to put that in the book?” Without thinking, I answered, “Oh no, that would be disrespectful,” and she cried, “What. Are. You. Talking. About?” After that, I was back in America.